Dear Milk Streeter,
The dogs didn’t get out. The rabbits didn’t get out. And Tom and I didn’t get out.
It was the week after Christmas and the temperature was south of 20 degrees below zero most mornings. Yes, it did get up to single digits during the day, even a bit over 10 degrees once, but it was too hard on the dogs. Besides, rabbit hunting is hard when the rabbits stay home.
Since it was too cold to go hunting, Tom and I spent a lot of time indoors, drinking coffee and chatting about a few of the characters from our past. One of those characters was Danny. He ran construction equipment for a living and was a little crazy and tough as nails. He once got his leg stuck under a backhoe wheel while it was turning and managed to walk away, albeit with a sore leg. He and Tom once tried to deliver a refrigerator in the dead of winter but couldn’t get the truck up the driveway. No problem. Danny put the fridge on a bobsled and towed it up using an ancient Jeep Eagle. Another time, Tom was headed up to see Danny, who lived just down the road. He heard a huge explosion, and then one of Danny’s helpers came running like crazy down toward Tom’s truck. He shouted, “That guy’s crazy! He just blew up a stump with half a stick of dynamite!” Rocks were raining down everywhere.
Dynamite is a theme in many of Tom’s stories. When he was growing up in the Connecticut River valley, a neighbor once invited a friend to his place for a beer. He refused. A few minutes later, the host lit up a half-stick of dynamite as a way of making the invitation non-negotiable. On a regular day, he would shoot off a machine gun as if he were ringing a bell. Miller time!
Tom’s old farm was the place in town to stop by for dinner. Danny showed up every Thursday night. Sometimes he would buy groceries and leave them on the counter for Tom’s wife Nancy to cook. And Fridays, it was Harley and Dorothy. They would sit quietly on two chairs against the wall and wait for dessert. Harley always liked his tea with two ice cubes; Tom would give him only one from time to time to see what he would do. He just looked up at Tom with a quizzical expression—he was a man of few words.
And, of course, there are the stories that we tell over and over again. The time Nancy heard faint yelling out across the valley at night. A guest had fallen through a rotten cabin deck and was stuck, half in and half out. Had to get a chainsaw to get her out. Or, back in the days when I still went running in the early morning, I jogged past Tom and Nancy’s place. Tom was on the porch with a cup of coffee and saw me run by with a goat in tow. It was one of the Haggerty animals that kept breaking through fences and running around town. Or the time that a friend of ours drove an old riding lawnmower around town the whole summer. This is the same gentleman who bought a small boat, launched it in a pond up on Southeast Corners Road and it promptly sank. Guess he didn’t check to see if it leaked or not.
The thing about these neighbors I remember most is that they were good neighbors. Danny had seen some pretty hard action in WWII but he still loved life and would stop and help anyone who needed a hand. One of my best friends in town, John, was prickly—a real homesteader type—but he would deliver a half cord of split oak in the fall or help me out with whatever harebrained scheme I had in mind. (John’s dream was to buy a WWII tank and drive it around his property—it wouldn’t get stuck in the mud.) And Tom and Nancy have been there for us through our early days of sugaring, failed plumbing, sick horses, kids who needed a helping hand, and any internal combustion engine that wouldn’t start.
That’s Our Town. Kind of crazy, pretty far off the beaten path but with neighbors who show up without having to ask. All in all, a good place to call home.